Minnesota Wild Draft Review

By Mark Schwarz

Like every other NHL team, the Minnesota Wild went into the 2001 NHL Entry Draft claiming that, regardless of organizational need, they would be picking the best available talent. However, when it came time to make their picks, it became apparent that the skills of those the Wild scouts tabbed the “best player available” correlated nicely with what most deemed to be the biggest weaknesses in the team’s system. The Wild needed to add size and skill up front, and they were able to do just that, especially with their first two picks.

Whether the team drafted for need or not, Wild fans should be fairly pleased with the team’s drafting over the weekend. Without reaching for marginal picks, the club were able to address their biggest organizational weaknesses and bring substantial talent into their system. The Wild made only one minor trade, dealing away their 5th round pick in order to move up from #79 overall to #74 and select defender Chris Heid. Here’s a quick look, in order, at the team’s selections in the 2001 draft :

6. Mikko Koivu C, TPS Turku (Finland) 6’2″ 183 lbs. Born March 12, 1983.

2000-01 TPS 21 GP 0- 1- 1 2 PIM
2000-01 TPS jr. 30 GP 11-38-49 34 PIM

Was rated #4 in Europe by Central scouting. A bit of a surprise with the Wild’s #1 pick as most experts had them selecting either Michigan defender Mike Komaserik (#7 overall to Montreal) or Kootenay Ice netminder Dan Blackburn (#10 overall to the NY Rangers). Koivu has the upside of the top 5 players in the draft – his size, vision, and elite playmaking ability give him #1 center potential. However, unlike the top players in the draft, Koivu is tremendously raw at this point and more of a risk – his skating is very marginal right now and he isn’t a terribly good finisher around the net. He’s still growing and needs to add muscle and bulk, and the Wild are obviously betting that as he does, his skating stride will improve and he’ll show more power through traffic and in front of the net. Should be tailor-made to center Marian Gaborik if he develops as hoped. However, Minnesota fans shouldn’t be expecting Koivu to make an impact any time soon – as mentioned, he’s still very raw and is likely at least 3-4 years away from coming to North America. The next step in his development will be to earn a regular spot with TPS in the SM-Liiga – split last season between their junior team, where he dominated, and their senior team, where he struggled with the pace.

36. Kyle Wanvig RW, Red Deer (WHL) 6’2″ 210 lbs. Born January 29, 1981.

2000-01 69 GP 55-46-101 202 PIM

A player who re-entered into the 2001 draft after being lowballed in contract talks with the Boston Bruins, and after a trade to the Toronto Maple Leafs was vetoed when a fax machine snafu delayed his contract with them past the signing deadline. Was originally the 89th player selected in the 1999 draft but has made tremendous strides since then, especially over the past season as he nearly tripled his offensive numbers from the year previous. A big power forward with a big shot and a nice scoring touch who is especially effective in front of the net on the powerplay. His skating has improved markedly since being drafted –- his first step is still a bit on the slow side but his top-end speed is excellent and he can really barrel down the wing. Isn’t afraid to drop the gloves and finished this season with over 200 PIM. Given Minnesota’s lack of depth up front, he has an outside shot of sticking with the team if he can put together a strong training camp, but is probably better off adjusting to the pro game at the AHL level first. However, it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see him in a Wild uniform at some point during the 2000-01 season. An excellent pick at #36 overall.

74. Chris Heid D, Spokane (WHL) 6’2″ 205 lbs. Born March 14, 1983.

2000-01 51 GP 2-15-17 76 PIM

Was rated #47 in North America by CSB. Minnesota surrendered their 5th round pick in order to move up five spots and draft Heid, which was a bit of a curious move as he isn’t the type of player who normally captures the imagination of scouts. Steady, dependable, boring defensive defender. Skates well and is very strong in his own zone – the type of player a coach likes to send out in the last minute of a game to protect a lead. Offensive skills are very mediocre and he really needs to work on developing in that regard over his final two junior seasons. Still, a good bet to be a solid #5 or #6 defender for the Wild several years down the road.

93. Stephane Veilleux C, Val D’Or (QMJHL) 6’1″ 187 lbs. Born November 16, 1981.

2000-01 68 GP 48-67-115 90 PIM

Not rated by CSB and something of a surprising selection at #93 overall. Like Wanvig, a slightly older player who is likely headed straight for the Wild’s AHL farm club in Houston. A key member of the outstanding Val D’Or Foreurs team which made it to the final of the 2001 Memorial Cup, although he was overshadowed by his more high-profile teammates Brandon Reid and Simon Gamache. An offensive player with nice hands and playmaking skills, along with decent size, although his skating is only average. A hard-working player who is strong along the boards and in his own zone. Was passed over in the 2000 draft and was a training camp invitee of the Chicago Blackhawks last year, but wasn’t signed to a pro contract.

103. Tony Virta RW, TPS Turku (Finland) 5’10” 190 lbs. Born June 28, 1972.

2000-01 56 GP 27-33-60 24 PIM

A current teammate of Mikko Koivu at TPS Turku, but a player who has likely been drafted more for the benefit of Marian Gaborik. Skilled, veteran right winger (who has also played some center in the past) will be expected to step right into Minnesota’s lineup for 2001-02 and should provide a more talented linemate for Gaborik than any of the plumbers he was playing with this past year. Finished second in scoring in the SM-Liiga this past season. Somewhat undersized, but an excellent skater and dangerous offensive player. Very intelligent and creative. Also noted for his work-ethic and character, and his strong two-way play.

202. Derek Boogaard LW, Prince George (WHL) 6’7″ 250 lbs. Born June 23, 1982.

2000-01 61 GP 1-8-9 245 PIM

Not rated by CSB. Huge WHL goon who no-one thought would ever be drafted. A hard worker and has a positive attitude, but no playing skills at all – terrible skater, no puck skills, no hockey sense. Usually gets on the ice for less than 5 minutes/game. For a talent comparison, current Wild enforcer Matt Johnson – who might be the least talented player in the NHL right now – scored 21 goals and 62 points in his two seasons prior to being drafted. At the same level over the same timeframe, Boogaard scored 1 goal and 9 points. He’s a good fighter, but he isn’t unbeatable. The Wild have done a very strong job over the past two drafts, but this pick is a terrible one. A dinosaur of a player who has no shot of getting anywhere near the NHL.

239. Jake Riddle LW, Seattle (WHL) 6’1″ 210 lbs. Born April 22, 1983.

2000-01 67 GP 13-20-33 109 PIM

Was rated #97 in North America by CSB. The first Minnesota-born player ever drafted by the Wild franchise. A raw player with some decent power-forward skills, including a big shot, but he’s a major project at this point. Skating and first-step quickness need major work. Also needs to work on developing his consistency of effort and of play. His numbers this year are eerily similar to fellow 2001 Wild draftee Kyle Wanvig’s at the same age, and the Wild will be hoping he develops along the same lines. Played with the USNDTP U-17 program in Ann Arbor, Michigan before moving to Seattle for the 2000-01 season.